Made it Ma! Top of the World! How Corinthians left Chelsea singing the Blues at the World Club Cup
It’s not known if Jimmy Cagney, responsible for the words above, had a favourite Brazilian football team, but if he did, the smart money might go on it having been Corinthians. Renowned for playing ragamuffins and roustabouts, more than a few of Cagney’s screen characters would fit right in with the “Bando de Loucos”, as Timão’s (“the Big Team”) fans are known.
After yesterday’s World Club Cup win over Chelsea, the celebrations of the club’s estimated 25 million supporters will have been even a little more “louco” than usual.
That same smart money might have seen victory over Chelsea coming. Corinthians’ title had all the inexorable force of tectonic plate movement, and is the culmination of a process that began, ironically enough, with relegation in 2007.
While a Corinthians side boasting Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano lifted the Brazilian title in 2005, the triumph was overshadowed both by a match fixing scandal and the murky role at Parque São Jorge of Kia Joorabchian’s MSI group, responsible for bringing the Argentinians to Brazil. When the partnership split amidst money laundering investigations in 2007, Tevez, Mascherano and other key players followed Joorabchian out the door, and a rudderless Corinthians tumbled into Serie B.
Enter Mano Menezes. No one gets far at Porto Alegre’s Grêmio without being a considerable pragmatist, and the recently fired Brazil coach’s sense of organization and hard work would set the tone not just for Corinthians’ ensuing promotion campaign, but for the next few years. This not-so-Protestant work ethic would even survive the ground breaking signings of Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, who provided a vital boost to the club’s self-esteem and international profile, but who were unable to engender much success on the field.
Although Corinthians won the Copa do Brasil under Menezes in 2009, it would be another coach, and another Gaúcho, who would ultimately take the club to the next level. Since Tite`s arrival, Corinthians have won the 2011 Brasileirão, this year’s Libertadores, and now the Mundial de Clubes.
Ironic now to think that it might never happened at all. In 2011, Tite’s charges were dumped out of Libertadores pre-qualifying by the little known Deportes Tolima of Columbia. Given the three-bad-games-and-you’re-out culture that prevails in Brazilian football, many clubs would have shown Tite the door. Instead he kept his job, and Corinthians have never looked back.
The club’s success has been based on robustly democratic principles. Although the aforementioned ex-Seleção superstars, as well as Adriano, have worn Corinthians colours in the last couple of years, Timão’s success has not been built around the traditional Brazilian love of the big name, but on organization, hard work, and the team ethic. There is no clearer evidence of this than the importance of volantes, or defensive midfielders, in both Menezes’ and Tite’s teams – from Jucilei and Elias in 2010, to Ralf and Paulinho today.
It’s perhaps fitting then that São Paulo’s Time do Povo (“Team of the People”), formed in 1910 by a group of industrial workers, and home of Socrates’ Democracia Corintiana movement, in which footballing and administrative decisions were made on a collective basis, should yesterday trump a side reinvented and moulded by the autocratic hand of a Russian oil oligarch.
And trump them they did. While Chelsea had their moments, those who have watched Corinthians over the last couple of years will know that “bend but don’t break” is practically the team motto. Theirs is not an expansive style of play but it is supremely effective, as this year’s Libertadores run, when only four goals were conceded in fourteen games, clearly shows.
A spell midway through the first half was to prove crucial. Chelsea were pressing, while Corinthians looked ragged. Yet the Londoners’ attacks lacked conviction – last year’s Barcelona vs. Santos whitewash this was not. At least to this hapless scribe, the outcome suddenly seemed clear. If Corinthians could overcome the psychological pressure created by their baying fans, not to mention the millions watching back home, and realise that inconsistent Chelsea were eminently beatable, then victory was a real possibility.
And so it proved. As Corinthians’ confidence grew together with Chelsea’s frustration, so the team’s passing, notably through Paulinho, regained some of its customary crispness. Guerrero, Emerson and Jorge Henrique continued to harry from the front, Ralf quietly broke up Chelsea possession, and midway through the second half, after good work in the box by Paulinho and Danilo, Guerrero headed the winner past three static Chelsea defenders.
So while Chelsea lie in the gutter, Corinthians are no longer merely looking at the stars but clutching them in their sweaty hands. The game also provides a timely reminder, particularly after last Thursday’s hideously embarrassing São Paulo vs. Tigre debacle, that South American club football, especially in Brazil, should not be hurriedly overlooked.
It’s only fitting that the last word is on the “loucos”, 15,000 of whom saw Corinthians off at the airport a couple of weeks ago. “They couldn’t all be here,” said Tite, holding up a banner saying “The Favela is Here”, another reference to the club’s popularity in the poorer parts of São Paulo and Brazil, “but they were here in spirit. The fans played too, today.”
Picture:Getty ImagesTagged in: Carlos Tevez, chelsea, Corinthians, football, Javier Mascherano, Mano Menezes, Tite, World Club Cup
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